Ascoli Piceno’s foundations pre-date those of Rome’s by several centuries; the city was established by the Italic tribe of Piceni on the important salt trade route known as Via Salaria. Ascoli has a long, proud history – from being a federated city in 268 BC to revolting against Rome in 91 BC, from being ruled by the Lombards and the Franks in the Middle Ages, to finally becoming a part of Le Marche and unified Italy in 1860.
Begin with Piazza Arringo, the oldest monumental square in Ascoli Piceno. It’s surrounded by several important buildings, including the Cathedral of St. Emidio, Palazzo Fonzi, Palazzo dell’Arengo and the Baptistry of San Giovanni, not to mention the elliptical fountains flanked by seahorses, dragons and dolphins. At the far end of the square, stop by at Migliori for the city’s best known street food – olive all’ascolana. These delectable little flavour bombs are made by stuffing Ascolana olives with minced meat (cooked with wine and lemon zest), which are then crumbed and deep fried. Make sure you buy from a freshly fried batch and enjoy them slowly; bite into each one (instead of popping them whole in your mouth) and taste the individual layers of crumb, olive and meat. Before you know it, you’ll will have polished off the lot and will possibly be queuing up at Migliori’s on your way out of Ascoli!
Head over to Piazza del Popolo, the beautiful Renaissance square that is considered to be one of the best in Italy. The day I went to Ascoli, the town was gearing up to host the weekend market, so the square was almost completely covered with awnings and stalls. Yet, a look around the square and I could understand why it’s a beautiful “living room”. Surrounded by buildings with elegant loggias and ornate facades, it’s a visual treat strolling around in the square. The 13th century Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo is the most imposing building in the piazza and it was the seat of the papal governors. The massive town clock is mounted on the facade of this building. The gothic church of San Francesco also stands in the piazza.
Couple of doors away is Bar Centrale, another old cafe, smaller but more atmospheric than Meletti. Here I tried mistra – a particularly strong anise-based liqueur typical to Le Marche, which I preferred to the anisetta.